THE emergency landing by an Indian passenger plane in Nawabshah on Monday does signify some progress in Pakistan-India relations over time. That the flight which had developed faults midair while flying from Abu Dhabi to New Delhi was able to land in Pakistani territory at all is an important landmark. On the other hand, the 130 passengers and crew who spent 13 hours inside the plane in Nawabshah can be viewed as a metaphor for the millions who find themselves caught between the governments in Delhi and Islamabad that are tediously slow when it comes to improving ties.
These 130 accidental guests could have acted as better-equipped agents of normalisation had they been allowed to experience Pakistani hospitality firsthand. Instead, they were made to spend 13 hours inside the parked aircraft, the pilot choosing to burden the chance hosts with no more than a request for a few bottles of water. He was not unfriendly at all and has been described as polite. Yet, it appears that he was carrying on his shoulders not just the responsibility of ensuring his passengers reached their destination, a monumental task no doubt. He was also weighed down by perceptions and policies and fears and suspicions that would be hard to overcome in ‘hostile’ territory. With this baggage, he could hardly be blamed for acting cautious when he refused food and an offer for the passengers to step out of the plane and refresh themselves. However, this ‘pleasant’ stopover has to be marked somehow. The peace activists will be all too keen to highlight the incident and the newspapers to cash in on it. It would be great though if the Pakistani government could sent some 130 gifts to the Air India passengers and crew as souvenirs of their memorable stay in Nawabshah.